Melissa Majerus., Director of Campus Life, St. Cloud Technical & Community College
Top Six Secrets to Success (for eOrientation)
When the Advisors at St. Cloud Technical & Community College came back from a national NACADA (National Academic Advising Association) conference, they were jazzed.
One of the takeaways they wanted to implement was a flipped advising model. In this model students complete time-consuming orientation areas online at their own pace (instead of sitting in a classroom with up to 100 other students), then schedule a face-to-face session with advisors. By saving time on Advising/Registration days, advisors can use their time to focus on student meetings and planning out their educational paths.
Advising started looking around for software to help with the eOrientation side of the project. A group of representatives from Advising, Marketing, IT, and Admissions sat through multiple presentations, but nothing quite fit the bill: we needed something flexible, mobile-friendly, easily editable, and relatively inexpensive.
We thought the ideal eOrientation software was a myth – a unicorn.
Until SCTCC Web Programmer, Bob Pfeffer, said “Well, I can build that.”
What follows are six of the top reasons why this project, dubbed the “Unicorn Project,” was so successful at SCTCC.
The first secret to our success was to focus on the why: helping students. The NACADA Vision states that effective academic advising is at the core of student success, so why wouldn’t we make more time for face-to-face advising sessions?
Flipped Advising was really the driver behind eOrientation. At SCTCC, students meet with an advisor once a semester, sometimes more for certain student populations. By making the relational component of advising a higher priority, advisors build trust through face-to-face communication and create a connection with students. Students who experience positive relationships with classmates, faculty, and staff members tend to show higher levels of academic motivation1.
And academic motivation is what students at SCTCC really need to help them finish what they start. With fall 2016 to fall 2017 retention/success rates at 49%, everyone, not just advisors, needs to reach out and create relationships with students. Those relationships are integral to retention, and it all starts at the very beginning with eOrientation.
Two parts of buy-in on this project were super important.
First, the idea of Flipped Advising came from Advising in a grassroots effort to make the student experience better. If this had been a project that came from above, it wouldn’t have been as approachable or well received. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that come from the ground up!
Second, the Unicorn Project had support from leadership. Two real champions of the project brought the idea forward: Vi Bergquist, CIO, and Kristina Keller, VP of Academic and Student Affairs (no longer with SCTCC, unfortunately!).
“When Kristina Keller and I took the eOrientation idea to college Leadership we were happy to lend our support,” says CIO Vi. “The planning group had done a lot of research and was able so show us documentation from studies that shows that students who are better advised are more likely to be retained and be successful. We felt that the planning group was on to a winner.”
The Unicorn Project was also brought forward to the TASS Committee (Team for Academic and Student Success), a group from various campus departments that serves as an idea marketplace. The group wholeheartedly supported the concept of eOrientation and Flipped Advising.
The other major factor to consider was the employee time needed toward the project. Web Programmer Bob had an intern that semester who would be able to work on some of the programming behind the software, and Marketing would have to find content for this no matter what route we took (outside software or built internally). It would be a major project for IT and Marketing, but the effort put in at the beginning would help so many people down the road.
After buy-in and support from all associated groups at SCTCC, eOrientation was a go to move forward.
It was time to assemble Team Unicorn.
From the beginning, Project Unicorn had taken on mythical proportions because of the specifications we wanted. Now that we had the go ahead to make myth a reality, all the players needed to get involved.
Team Unicorn consisted of representatives from:
- Project Manager
The Project Manager, Director of Campus Life Missy Majerus, was an integral part of the team because she was a member who had no other part of the project aside from managing it. Missy set firm deadlines and expectations, but each team member was able to work independently on their sections of the project and in a creative way if s/he chose.
Web Programmer Bob was in charge of making sure the back-end code worked not only on the student end of things but also that the Advisor dashboard was functional for scheduling and able to store documents students completed within eOrientation.
Once the software was created, it needed to be populated, and that’s where the Content Manager, Kate Wallace, came in. Team Unicorn started with creating a flowchart of what was included in the software and where it landed. Some things that were initially intended to be included were taken out to keep the time short and students interested. From there, Content Manager Kate found or created content, keeping in mind a conversational tone and different types of media to keep viewers entertained.
Our timeline was aggressive.
The first meeting was Aug. 8 and content was completed Jan. 1. A design framework was in place Feb. 1 with version 1.0 ready for demo on March 10. Project Unicorn was set to launch April 1.
In reality? We launched April 6. Our launch date was the ONLY deadline we missed!
Team Unicorn worked so well and met its deadlines because we were able to try things in a creative environment with minimal restrictions. Working with each other but also independently on a common goal was a way for everyone to use their strengths to make Project Unicorn a reality.
The myth was myth no more!
The best way to make eOrientation work well was to make sure students could use it in the most intuitive way possible.
Our wish list items for eOrientation on the student end all came true:
- Work with current systems (ISRS, Hobson’s, etc.) and pull/push student information
- Allow for self-selected items in eOrientation
- Responsive design (for mobile phone use)
- Ability to let students log out and save progress
- Letting students pick up where they left off in the process
- Two “checkpoints” where students needed to fill out worksheets (which were made available to Advisors electronically)
- Ability to make Advising appointments at the end of eOrientation, based off student needs (SAP, PSEO, DevEd, English for Speakers of Other Languages)
eOrientation also needed to respond to student needs. If it turns out that something isn’t working quite right, we wanted to be able to fix it right away, not wait for someone off-site to fill out a ticket (one big plus to building this in-house). If content needed to be updated, the content dashboard was a simple login away and changes could be made immediately.
One MAJOR asset Team Unicorn had was Web Programmer Bob. Bob’s ability to make sure everything runs smoothly and in a timely manner was a huge asset to the team.
Sharing the Unicorns’ Success
After utilizing eOrientation and Flipped Advising for a few months, Team Unicorn had to shout this success from the rooftops. Project Manager Missy sent a proposal for us to present at the national NASPA conference in Washington, D.C., which was accepted. Unicorns take on DC!
On a more local level, eOrientation has been shared at the Minnesota State IT Conference; the Minnesota State Campus Academic Technology Team session; the Minnesota State Academic & Student Affairs Conference; will soon be shared at the NCMPR Region 5 Conference; and has been the recipient of two Shark Tank funding initiatives. We have met with Advisors as well as IT staff from various colleges and universities in Minnesota to discuss how this might work for them.
Internally, we were really happy with how the project was managed and have used the framework of Project Unicorn in other projects such as Employee Onboarding. When SCTCC representatives attended the Higher Learning Commission strategy forum, we were asked to think about and bring a project that was successful. The Unicorn Project was the unanimous example, and the HLC asked the group to use components of what made this project successful to build the next institutional action plan.
When eOrientation and Flipped Advising first launched, we sent a survey to students for feedback, and the results were VERY positive.
- 90% of students found registration appointments “helpful” or “very helpful”
- 95% of students report that their advisor was “eager” or “very eager” to help
- 91% of students state they would feel comfortable contacting their advisor with questions or concerns
The data just reiterates that making the personal connection with students is key.
After our first success with Shark Tank funding, we applied for additional Innovation Funds to translate eOrientation into Somali and Spanish for our bilingual students on campus. Over the past few years, Advisors had learned that a lot of ESOL students have family members involved in the process of becoming a student, and making eOrientation available in their native language allows that influencer to have more active participation.
Some promising things: because of intrusive advising that eOrientation allows for, more students are taking more credits. As soon as Flipped Advising began, Advisors were seeing more students taking an additional class after meeting; the 2017-2018 academic year saw an increase of about .6 credits per student. The Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Melissa Lindsey, is adding more math classes than ever before, helping students complete math sequences more efficiently.
Now that Flipped Advising has been implemented for a year, we’re able to measure year-over-year results. We hope to see our retention and completion rates go up, making eOrientation and Flipped Advising a vital part of retention at SCTCC. Advisors’ consistent face-to-face interaction with students at SCTCC is starting to prove to be one of the pillars of retention for our college.
All because we made the myth a reality!
One note: This method of Flipped Advising was rolled out to all liberal arts students. Many of our trades and industry programs still provide faculty advising and Advising/Registration days. Academic Advising has started “Advisor Training” in an effort to be more consistent with advising practices across campus.
Project Manager: Missy Majerus, Director of Campus Life
Content Manager: Kate Wallace, Marketing Specialist
Advising Representative: Stacy Griffey, Director of Academic Advising
Academics Representative: Melissa Lindsey, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Academics Representative (Unicorn Emeritus): Kristina Keller, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs
IT Representative: Bob Pfeffer, Web Programmer
Admissions Representative: Jodi Elness, Director of Enrollment Management
1 Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. School Field, 7(2), 133-144.
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